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Help Your Brain Learn Better

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The brain is one of the most complex parts of our body. Ongoing research on how it works has revealed some of its secrets, although scientists are working hard to discover more. We can apply some of that knowledge to the way we learn. 

Here are a few techniques that will help you learn better and more effectively.   

Neural Pathways 

First, let’s talk about neural pathways. Simply put, they are patterns formed by connections between neurons that represent thoughts. Imaging shows that these connections light up when you first think of something. 

But, how do neurons connect? Nerve cells have projections called axons, which make synapses, or pass electrical or chemical signals when connecting with other neurons. New thoughts make connections between neurons, thus creating new neural pathways. The more you think about something, i.e., the more your brain processes the same thought, the more dominant that neural pathway becomes. 

After a while, you don’t need to think about it, like walking. For example, you learned to walk as a baby. The constant practice created dominant neural pathways, so now you do not think about walking, you just do it. However, new thoughts that are not processed often get deleted, and that is how you forget things you may have learned but never practiced.

The Focused and the Diffuse Modes of Thinking

According to Professor Barbara Oakley, PhD, the focused mode of thinking involves concentrating intently on the material you are trying to learn. It also helps you understand a concept or solve a problem that is related to something you are already familiar with, i.e., your thoughts follow known neural paths. 

On the other hand, the diffuse mode of thinking happens when we let our minds wander. It allows us to look at things from a different perspective, form new connections, and thus create new pathways. 

To facilitate learning something new effectively, especially if it is difficult or complex, your brain needs to go back and forth between the focused mode and the diffuse mode of learning. Use the Pomodoro technique for time management if you find it difficult to switch between modes of thinking.   

Learning Techniques: Practicing, Chunking, Recalling, Mental Breaks

To strengthen the new neural connections that you form when you learn something new, you need to practice. Why? Repeated use links neurons together to create dominant neural paths. Practice and repetition are an important part of learning because they help you grow a kind of scaffolding to support your thinking. 

Experts recommend practicing spaced repetition to commit new knowledge to long-term memory. It involves spreading repetition over several days to help synaptic connections form and strengthen, as opposed to cramming everything in one day, which is an ineffectual learning technique. 

Mental breaks also play an important role in learning. After spending some time in focused mode studying something, switch your attention to something else for a while, like going for a walk or getting a coffee. This mental break allows your subconscious mind to keep working and make unexpected connections, understand the concept you are studying, or come up with innovative solutions. 

If you want to learn at a deeper level, use recall: Read the material you want to learn, look away, and recall the main ideas. You may need to repeat this a few times, but it will be worth the effort. 

Chunking, on the other hand, helps you join together bits of information through meaning or use. In neuroscience, a chunk refers to a network of neurons that fire together to perform an action or think a thought smoothly and effectively. You create chunks, that is, compact packages of information, by focused practice and repetition. Little by little, these chunks become larger, and they start fitting together with the other topics you are learning until you master the subject. 

Neuroscience Is the Cornerstone of Our Teaching 

At English Services, we firmly believe in using neuroscience techniques to teach languages. Our lessons include mental breaks and we provide extra practicing and chunking opportunities on our platform. Contact us to learn more about our corporate language training services and help your team improve the way they communicate.